August 6, 1989
Urban Mass Transportation Administration
400 Seventh Street SW
Washington, DC 20590
Re: National Transportation Policy: Statement for 8/23/89 Public Hearing, BART Board Room, Oakland
The subject is timely: the National Transportation Policy will either destroy us, or will set an example for the world! I am assuming the latter, naturally. One good sign is that your public hearing here is being held in the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Board Room, rather than at the MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission). (However, this may simply be because the MTC is too busy with meetings on how to pave over every square inch of the Bay Area and raise pollution levels to the maximum the public will tolerate.)
Goals: (a) a pleasant, healthful environment: clean air, clean water, absence of man-made noise, and a maximum of unimpaired natural habitat nearby; (b) cheap, fast, quiet, environmentally benign public transit access within walking distance of all urban areas (1/2 mile); (c) bicycle access to all transit lines; (d) where possible, the elimination of the need to travel (e.g., through telecommuting and mixed-use urban planning); (e) the elimination of dependence on oil and other non-renewable resources; (f) the elimination of automobile dependence in everyday life (there may still be a need for taxis and rental cars in special circumstances, such as a trip to a wilderness area).
Myths: (a) "The reduction of congestion and vehicle delay [as opposed to per-passenger delay] is necessary and desirable": recent research by J. R. Kenworthy and associates has shown that speeding up traffic (vehicles, as opposed to people and goods) is counter-productive: it increases fuel consumption and air pollution and economic inefficiency, by causing people to drive farther and more often; (b) "Congestion causes huge losses of people's time": Kenworthy also showed that vehicle capacity increases such as freeway construction and freeway expansion actually result in people spending more, rather than less time in their cars; and even when one can complete a trip faster by car, time spent driving is almost totally wasted time, whereas time spent on public transit is your own, and can be used for reading, sleeping, socializing, or other useful purposes; (c) "HOV lanes are good": on the contrary, they have been shown to draw patrons away from public transit, through "casual carpooling"; they are usualy implemented in the form of new lanes added to roads, which add vehicle capacity to the road and encourage more driving; they are also in HOV use only a for small portion of the day; only when existing lanes are turned into HOV lanes can there be hope for improving air quality and reducing low-occupancy vehicle use.
Mistakes: (a) the past heavy investments in automobile-serving facilities, which require very expensive ongoing maintenance, and increase urban sprawl and dependence on the automobile; (b) the past and current heavy subsidies of the automobile, including free parking and "hidden" subsidies such as police services; (c) using gas taxes to create more facilities that need to be maintained through gas taxes -- a vicious cycle; the gas tax should be used to pay off the national debt and/or to build rail transit systems that reduce auto dependence.
The solution: (a) (the "carrot") a backbone of high-speed, maximally efficient rail transit served by feeder lines (light rail where possible, otherwise buses, e.g where the terrain is hilly); it must be fast and attractive enough to offer real competition to the auto; (b) (the "stick") a complete halt to roadway expansion; the elimination of free parking; as much as possible, the elimination of parking; (c) mandatory limits on urban sprawl (outward into open spaces); (d) mandatory mixed-use, residence-dense urban land use.
The rationale: the automobile and its relatives cause unacceptable levels of air pollution, habitat destruction, noise, urban blight, community divisions, deaths and crippling accidents, dependence on foreign oil, ozone depletion, and the greenhouse effect. "Congestion", rather than being harmful, actually increases transit use, reduces air pollution and fuel consumption (by discouraging driving and ensuring that traffic doesn't exceed the maximally fuel-efficient speed -- 55 km/h (35 MPH)), and improves safety (there may be more accidents, but it is very difficult to have a serious accident when travelling at low speeds!). Other than bicycling and walking, the most efficient form of transportation is by trains on steel rails.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
Encl: "REVERSING THE TREND TOWARD AUTOMOBILE DEPENDENCY -- A RATIONALE FOR HALTING FREEWAY EXPANSION", An Excerpted Bibliography of J.R. Kenworthy, P.W.G Newman, and T.J. Lyons. Michael J. Vandeman, July 19, 1989.
Newman, P. W. G. and J. R. Kenworthy, "The Transport Energy Trade-Off: Fuel-Efficient Traffic Versus Fuel-Efficient Cities". Transportation Research-A, Vol.22A, No.3, pp.163-174, 1988.
Newman, P.W.G., J.R. Kenworthy and T.J. Lyons, "Does Free-Flowing Traffic Save Energy and Lower Emissions in Cities?" Search, Vol.19, No.5/6, September/November, 1988.
Kenworthy, J.R., H. Rainford, P.W.G. Newman, and T.J. Lyons, "Fuel Consumption, Time Saving and Freeway Speed Limits", Traffic Engineering and Control, September, 1986, pp.455-459.